The Gender Gap – Part III – Nature vs Nurture

Countless studies have shown that a gender gap does exist in learning. Girls typically excel in reading, writing, and speech from an early age, while boys tend to lag far behind in those areas. Elementary-aged girls do well in math and science, just like boys.  When girls get into high school many of them choose not to pursue higher-level classes or careers in the STEM field.

The question that educational experts ask is, “What percentage of this gender gap is caused by biological factors, and what percentage is unintentionally caused by teachers and parents?” In other words, is it nature or nurture that’s discouraging these young females?

According to the latest research, not much has changed regarding how male and female students are perceived and treated in the classroom.

  • Boys are expected to be rowdier and restless in the classroom so they are given more freedom to do act out.  Girls are expected to be more reserved and are corrected more often if they are seen to not “fit” their role.
  • Boys are discouraged from expressing their emotions. While this can lead to toxic masculinity in the future, from a very young age boys are told to “be a man” and not show feelings.  Girls are encouraged to talk things out and crying is an acceptable behavior.  This allows girls to balance their feelings and not feel less a “girl”.

A clear indication of this was during the NCAA basketball playoffs, where the weight room for the men was fantastic and well equipped while the women’s weight room was basically non-existent.  Another clear indication of gender bias is the pay disparity between male and female athletes in the same sport. 

  • When girls can’t answer a question quickly, teachers are more likely to repeat the question to them rather than call on a boy to answer.  When boys can’t answer a question quickly, teachers tend to ask the question in a different way or they break it down into a series of questions allowing the boy additional time and more attempts to get the answer correct.
  • Teachers interact with boys between 10%-30% more often than they do with girls, across all grade levels.
  • Teachers treat male athletes more favorably in class, particularly when these male athletes are on the school football team.  Male athletes are given regular passes to turn homework in late, miss assignments that they then don’t have to make up, and act out in class.  If a teacher doesn’t want to give preferential treatment to student athletes, they’re often pressured to do so by administrators and coaches. Many school districts require certain grades to participate in games.  Teachers will be often be pressured to bump up the grades of student athletes so they don’t miss the game.

The gender gap is alive and doing quite well.  There are small gains happening as families begin to support and encourage all their children to explore and identify what they want to be.  As the younger generations start to take the reins in our educational system, they come with less biases and attitudes toward gender and race.  Women are starting to stand up to what is often called male domination.  They are demanding equal pay for equal work and equal opportunities in all career areas.   Women are slowly entering the executive suite, the Board room, and more women are becoming independent business owners.